Charged EVs | BMW reveals details of hydrogen fuel cell powertrain system

Different automakers have different visions of the low-emissions future, to say the least. Just a few days after the Volkswagen Group released an article explaining why it has abandoned hydrogen fuel cells in favor of battery-electric powertrains, BMW has “reaffirmed its ongoing commitment to hydrogen fuel cell powertrain system technology.”

Unlike VW, BMW is leaving all its powertrain options open. The
company’s Power of Choice strategy envisions continuing to offer legacy ICE
powertrains alongside pure electric, plug-in hybrid and fuel cell alternatives.

“We are convinced that various alternative powertrain systems will exist alongside one another in future, as there is no single solution that addresses the full spectrum of customers’ mobility requirements worldwide,” says Board Member Klaus Fröhlich. “The hydrogen fuel cell technology could quite feasibly become the fourth pillar of our powertrain portfolio in the long term. The upper-end models in our extremely popular X family would make particularly suitable candidates here.”

BMW has been working with Toyota on fuel cell technology
since 2013. Unlike Toyota, BMW has no plans to offers a production fuel cell vehicle
any time soon. “In our view, hydrogen as energy carrier must first be produced
in sufficient quantities at a competitive price using green electricity,” says
Herr Fröhlich. “Hydrogen will then be used primarily in applications that
cannot be directly electrified, such as long-distance heavy-duty transport.”

On the other hand, BMW has plans to expand its range of
battery-electric vehicles—some 25 electrified models are slated for launch by
2023, including at least 12 pure EVs.

BMW has now released some technical details of its BMW i
Hydrogen NEXT powertrain, which first appeared in a
concept vehicle
at last September’s Frankfurt Motor Show. The system uses fuel
cells developed in cooperation with Toyota, alongside a fuel cell stack and
overall system developed by BMW.

“The fuel cell system generates up to 125 kW (170 hp) of
electric energy from the chemical reaction between hydrogen and oxygen from the
ambient air,” explains Jürgen Guldner, VP of Hydrogen Fuel Cell Technology and
Vehicle Projects.

BMW’s fifth-generation eDrive unit, which is to debut in the
upcoming iX3, is also integrated into the Hydrogen NEXT powertrain. A “peak
power battery” positioned above the electric motor “injects an extra dose of
dynamics when overtaking or accelerating” (and outruns the current Toyota Mirai,
which has peak power of only 114 kW [152 hp]).

An electric converter located underneath the fuel cell
adapts the voltage level to that of the electric powertrain and the peak power
battery, which is also fed by regenerative braking. The vehicle accommodates a
pair of 700 bar tanks that can together hold six kg of hydrogen. “This
guarantees a long range regardless of the weather conditions,” says Guldner, “and
refuelling only takes three to four minutes.”

BMW plans to present a pilot version of its hydrogen
powertrain in a small series based on the current X5 in 2022. A production fuel
cell vehicle is to be expected “at the earliest in the second half of this
decade, depending on global market conditions and requirements.”

Sources: BMW, Green Car Reports

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